Monday, 22 July 2024

Arts & Life


Canadian film director David Cronenberg has a long, interesting history of grappling with psychological themes in horror and science fiction work. Recently, he’s become the master of the crime thriller, a reputation earned by A History of Violence and now enhanced with Eastern Promises, a breathtaking story of the disturbing world of Russian mobsters in contemporary London.

In typical Cronenberg fashion, the brutal underworld is revealed by layers of subtlety, deception and intrigue. Yet, there’s more to it than just mind games, as scenes of bloody violence telegraph the central conceit. After all, with the star presence of Viggo Mortensen, a history of violence is almost certain to reoccur in this milieu of the Russian mob.

The story of Eastern Promises takes place around Christmas and New Year’s, but holiday cheer is noticeably lacking, and even the London weather is dreary and gloomy to boot.

The action starts with a mob hit in a barbershop where the victim has his throat slashed by a razor. Soon after that, a pregnant Russian teen collapses in a pharmacy and is rushed to a hospital, where midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) saves the baby as the mother dies in childbirth.

Anna retrieves a diary from the dead girl’s belongings, and takes it home for research, hoping to locate the girl’s family. She’s the daughter of a Russian father and British mother (Sinead Cusack). Her irascible Russian uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) finds disturbing revelations in the diary, namely that the Russian girl was forced into a prostitution ring and that names of mobsters are revealed.

Though Uncle Stepan, who claims to have worked for the KGB, warns Anna to steer clear of the Russian underworld, she can’t resist following up on the business card of an old-fashioned Russian restaurant that was found tucked into the diary. The restaurant’s owner is Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), courtly and well-mannered, and he shows great interest in the diary, but for reasons entirely unrelated to solving the girl’s sad fate.

Unknowingly, Anna has breached the inner sanctum of the local Russian mob, and Semyon is capable of extreme measures to cover up the dirty secrets contained in the diary.

A key player in the mob scene is Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the chauffeur for Semyon and the mob boss’s psychotic son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). It becomes apparent that Semyon’s gang was involved in the barbershop murder. Given to excessive drinking, Kirill is a volatile character who may lack the restraint and discretion to properly carry out Semyon’s dirty work.

Nikolai is obviously much more than just a driver, and his tightly-controlled demeanor makes him appealing to Anna as an unlikely confidante. Driven by ambition, Nikolai seems to play all sides of the street, and yet he aspires to a higher job in the organization, one that might be fitting to the number of tattoos he acquired in Russia for his criminal career. There’s always a nice bit of tension between cool-headed Nikolai and the impulsive Kirill.

The twists and turns that run through the plot are rife with unpredictable results. Nikolai takes a keen interest in Anna, and it’s not just for her connection to the dead girl’s diary. Then Semyon asks Nikolai to get rid of Anna’s Uncle Stepan, who becomes a target for having read the diary.

There is probably no more jarring turn of events than the London bathhouse scene where a naked Nikolai has a deadly fight with two knife-wielding assassins. The brutality of this particular showdown, where Nikolai is most vulnerable, is likely to be the most memorable and talked-about moment of violence in the entire film.

A brutal efficiency is at work in Eastern Promises to make this film a lean, effective crime thriller with enough twists and surprises to prove truly mesmerizing. Following up on his success in A History of Violence, director Cronenberg proves that he knows how to triumph in this crime genre. And yet, the achievement of this film belongs as much to the terrific actors, where not one of the key players delivers anything less than a stellar performance.

Tim Riley writes television and movie reviews for Lake County News.



Charles Bronson tapped into the public fear of rising urban crime rates in “Death Wish” by becoming a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by sadistic burglars. Understandably, this film is set in 1974, when New York City was rapidly becoming a cesspool as a result of the very worst criminal degradations. Thus, an exploitative thriller connected with the visceral reactions of concerned citizens.

Today, thanks to changes in governance over the last dozen or so years, New York no longer resembles the dark days of rampant criminal enterprise that caused the law-abiding folks to avoid walks in the park or subway rides.

So what do we make of “The Brave One,” arguably an updated Charles Bronson vigilante vehicle not constrained by any gender identity issues?

New York in 2007, and even the Bronx, doesn’t seem threatening in the sense of a war zone, but it does come off that way to Jodie Foster’s Erica Bain, a radio personality who unfortunately discovers the mean streets.

At the opening of “The Brave One,” Erica is madly in love with young Manhattan doctor David Kirmani (Naveen Andrews), as they enjoy romantic interludes while planning their upcoming wedding.

Their absolute happiness carries no warning of danger lurking ahead, even though walking into a tunnel in Central Park at night seems a bit risky. Then the starry-eyed lovers encounter a trio of vicious thugs who deliver physical beatings of such brutal intensity that the scene is disturbingly uncomfortable to watch.

David doesn’t survive the ordeal, while Erica recovers gradually from severe wounds. Not surprisingly, she suffers the most from the painful psychological damage, having lost her loved one and trying to figure out how to cope with life. Returning to her radio job offers no solace, but she soon finds some small comfort in Chinatown when purchasing a handgun on the black market.

As these things happen in the movies, almost immediately she gets a chance to fire the gun in self-defense to ward off an estranged husband who kills his wife, a convenience store clerk, at point-blank range. Though she trembles at first, Erica regains her composure in time to wipe away any traces of her vigilante action.

With blood on her hands, Erica feels liberated and emboldened to ride the subway late at night, not losing her cool when a pair of punks hassle a few riders and steal an iPod. Left alone on a deserted subway, Erica is untroubled by the taunts of the knife-wielding thugs. But, hey, if you remember “Death Wish,” then you already know what is going to happen next. At the next train stop, what you get are a couple of guys riddled with bullets.

Meanwhile, the earnest homicide detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) starts putting the pieces together, and his investigation begins to heat up just as the tabloids herald the exploits of a vigilante. Erica also becomes an object of Mercer’s attentions, partly because his inner cop voice tells him something is amiss and he knows that Erica has been battered emotionally.

As she attempts to restart her radio career, Erica stumbles during her commentary on New York street life, and on one occasion calls the Big Apple the “safest big city in the world.” The irony could be her efforts to make it so. Det. Mercer listens intensely to her broadcasts, and becomes more intrigued with this enigmatic radio personality.

Oddly, there’s a strange chemistry developing between them, though it remains platonic and grounded in what might be therapeutic sessions of revealing conversation. Interestingly, the story often focuses on the smallest of details that could arouse suspicion in Mercer’s mind that Erica is more than just an emotionally scarred victim.

At times, “The Brave One” aims for a higher plane of artistic endeavor, taking one of Erica’s radio programs into a discussion with random callers about the merits of vigilante justice. But just as quickly the film slides back into the violent confrontations that can only elicit visceral cheers, such as the occasion she rescues a child prostitute from the clutches of a sadistic pimp. As for the thugs that altered her life forever, it is, as one would expect, only a matter of time before the climactic showdown.

“The Brave One” ends in a manner that is too convenient, and therefore not entirely credible. What saves the film from the swamp of excess is that both Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard deliver arresting performances, and we should be grateful for some nuanced acting amidst the carnage.

Tim Riley writes television and movie reviews for Lake County News.


Marcie Ann Long is taking her art to a Napa festival. Image courtesy of Marcie Ann Long.


KELSEYVILLE – Kelseyville painter Marcie Ann Long will show a variety of vineyard plein air paintings at the invitational 24th Annual Napa Valley Harvest Festival and Art Exhibition, Saturday Sept. 15 on the Lincoln Theatre grounds (near the Veterans Hospital).

This art and wine festival from 1 to 5 p.m. features 20 or more well known Napa wineries and restaurants as well as continuous musical entertainment.

Marcie and her studio partner, Steven Guy Bilodeau, opened the New California Gallery and Studio at 149 N. Main Street, Lakeport, in November of last year. Marcie and Steve met while members of the Konocti Plein Air Painters.

Because both Marcie and Steve are plein air painters the gallery is open irregular hours, usually when the artists are working in the adjoining studio, or by appointment. Marcie sometimes shows her black and white photography, including duotones of the Pomo baskets from the Lake County Museum, and landscapes of local Lake county scenes as well as more exotic locales. Works by local artist J.V. Magoon, and San Francisco painter Allen Freidlander add two more original visions to the mix.

Marcie has just been accepted into San Francisco's Artists Alley,which has just moved to a new space at 863 Mission, across from the new Bloomingdales, in the heart of the evolving museum district.

Her plant studies, especially orchids, will be shown at the Artists Alley starting Sept. 15 through the holidays. Her brightly colored acrylic paintings strive for a realistic representation of enlarged blossoms and foliage while employing an expressionistic palette and calligraphic brush strokes.


If you would like to see their work, call 279-1702 or 391-7147 (cell), e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or just drop by. Preview their work at




Long is a plein air painter recently accepted into the San Francisco Artists Alley. Image courtesy of Marcie Ann Long.

Still an experiment in putting together a viable television network, the CW continues to build on the same young adult audience that followed series like “Smallville” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” holdovers from the old UPN and the WB networks.

I hate to break the news to you, but the “Gilmore Girls” are gone, though “Gossip Girl” is far from the fitting replacement. Nevertheless, the network says the median age of its audience is 32, and Dawn Ostroff, the CW President of Entertainment, told an assembly of TV critics that her network is “the only broadcaster targeting 18 to 34 year-olds.” This might be news to CBS, which reportedly is targeting the same demographic if only to reduce the median age of its audience to something below that of the qualifying age to receive Social Security.

Moving into its second season, the CW, according to Ostroff, is “looking ahead, focusing on the future, and creating new hits that will further define our network,” especially with youth.

This state of affairs explains, of course, a show like “Gossip Girl,” based on the popular series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar. The one-hour drama focuses on the privileged prep school teens of Manhattan’s swank Upper East Side, where socialite Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) suddenly ends her self-imposed exile to boarding school to return to Manhattan. Once the Upper East Side’s most notorious party girl, Serena’s reasons for returning are mysterious. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and Serena have always been best friends, but the relationship has been competitive.

When Serena was out of the picture, Blair enjoyed her time in the spotlight. Now their uneasy relationship is further complicated by Blair’s boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford), a young man uneasy with all the privileges handed to him. With Serena on the scene, Blair will have to fight to hold onto Nate’s attention. The tension between Blair and Serena isn’t lost on all the others in the preppy crowd, since they all live for gossip and scandal, along with sex and drugs.

This isn’t a series that fits in the family hour. To the contrary, it sounds very much like a television version of “Cruel Intentions,” which involved seduction and manipulation of rich teens in New York’s upper crust society.

A one-hour drama more suitable to family viewing is “Life is Wild,” which chronicles the lives of a blended family that moves from the urban jungle of New York City to a game preserve deep inside South Africa. The series seems vaguely reminiscent of “Daktari,” a series that aired roughly 40 years ago about a veterinarian and his family relocated to Africa.

Similarly, “Life is Wild” stars D.W. Moffett as Danny, the vet who takes his second wife Jo (Stephanie Niznik) and their kids from previous marriages to a broken-down lodge called the Blue Antelope. Katie (Leah Pipes) is unable to forgive her father Danny for uprooting the family, and frankly he’s lost his mind.

The adjustment to life in the wild affects everyone, as Jo was a sought-after divorce attorney and Danny’s skills as a vet made him a favorite with wealthy New Yorkers and their pampered pets. Danny is eager to return the Blue Antelope to the thriving safari business it once was, namely because it is owned by the father of his deceased first wife. The children naturally spend their first days in Africa resenting the upheaval of their lives, but then they meet some locals and start to love the breathtaking vistas of the bush country, the wild animals and the vibrant culture.

When you have a series in which the Devil turns out to be a charming guy who is very solicitous in getting people to do bad things, you have to wonder if it isn’t about TV network executives. “Reaper,” one-hour show blending suspense and humor, allows the Devil (Ray Wise) to be more persuasive than scary, more tempting than frightening, except when things aren’t going his way.

Satan has his hands full when he acquires a 21-year-old slacker named Sam (Bret Harrison) as his personal bounty hunter. An evident underachiever, Sam had the misfortune of being raised by parents who sold his soul to the Devil before he was born. This explains why Sam never had to excel in school or hold down a decent job, unlike his younger brother (Kyle Switzer) who doesn’t enjoy the easy ride.

In his new capacity as Satan’s bounty hunter, Sam has to track down evil souls and return them to Hell. At first, Sam refuses to accept his bizarre fate, but he quickly discovers that the Devil’s temper could result in extremely bad circumstances. Besides, Sam becomes fascinated by Satan’s charm and his flattering insistence that Sam is full of untapped potential.

His new line of work is dangerous and frightening, even with the goofball help of his friends and co-workers at the Work Bench, a home improvement store. Sam has to go to great lengths to hide his new identity from a pretty co-worker (Missy Peregrym) that he is unable to ask out due to his lack of self-confidence.

A fish-out-water comedy emerges in the American heartland when a Pakistani Muslim exchange student comes to live with a family in rural Wisconsin. In the Tolchuck family, lanky 16-year-old Justin (Dan Byrd) is just trying to make it through the social nightmare of high school in Medora, with the help of his well-meaning mom Franny (Amy Pietz) and aspiring entrepreneur dad Gary (Scott Patterson).

Though bright and funny, Justin is also shy, awkward and resigned to the fact that he’ll never be one of the cool kids. Franny comes up with a plan to help Justin, by signing up for an international exchange student program, which she expects will deliver a handsome, athletic Nordic teen, who in turn will bestow instant coolness on her son.

The student who arrives at the Tolchuck home turns out to be Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan), a 16-year-old Muslim from a small village in Pakistan. Raja is thoughtful, responsible and wise, and yet the family is freaked out by the Muslim in their midst. After the initial shock wears off, Justin is won over by Raja’s humor, gestures of friendship and by their common status as outsiders. Despite the cultural chasm between them, Justin and Raja develop an unlikely bond that just might help them survive the minefield that is contemporary high school.

If things don’t work out, the CW has a reality show in the wings called “Farmer Wants a Wife,” and the contestants are urban girls chasing a bucolic dream.

Tim Riley writes television and movie reviews for Lake County News.







The feathers have been fading for some time now on the peacock symbol of the NBC television network. Proof of this sad state of affairs is found in the TV ratings, which are even below par for the prime Thursday night lineup of well-regarded comedies.

More proof is to be had in a pop quiz. Quick, try to name just one new show from last winter’s midseason schedule. Without looking back at my notes, I would have been hard pressed to recall “Raines” or “The Black Donnellys,” two crime dramas that obviously fizzled.

The summer did not begin auspiciously for the network when the departure of top executive Kevin Reilly became a subject of speculation within the industry and a topic of conversation during a recent TV critics press tour.

I don’t want to dwell on how NBC executives described Reilly’s exit as a matter of him realizing that “there was just no role for him (Reilly) at the company and decided to move on.” This assertion by new co-chairman of NBC Entertainment Ben Silverman elicited laughter, the kind you hear when these corporate types try to explain someone’s involuntary exodus as a desire to spend quality time with the family or to explore new opportunities.

A sure sign that the bank of creative ideas is running low on funds is the new one-hour drama “Bionic Woman.” To be sure, Lindsay Wagner was wonderful as the reconstructed tennis player Jaime Sommers, but then she played the indestructible heroine 30 years ago. Revived to the modern era, British thespian Michelle Ryan portrays Sommers as a struggling bartender and surrogate mom to her teenage sister in San Francisco. She didn’t think life could get much harder, until a devastating car accident leaves her at death’s door.

Jaime’s only hope for survival is top-secret technology that comes at a hefty price. Shouldering a big debt and coping with a new existence, Jaime must figure out how to use her extraordinary abilities for good, and hence there are sacrifices she must make to become the Bionic Woman.

Willing to court some controversy, and perhaps to draw notice to this show, NBC has hired Isaiah Washington to guest star in an arc of five episodes, where his character is a mysterious person instructing Jaime on how to handle her bionic powers. Washington caused a stir with an anti-gay slur during the Golden Globes, which brought enough negative publicity that ABC did not invite him back for the new season of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Another San Francisco story is the romantic mystery-drama “Journeyman,” where newspaper reporter and family man Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) inexplicably begins to travel through time and change the course of people’s lives. Along the way, he must also deal with the difficulties and stress at work and home brought on by his sudden disappearances.

However, his freewheeling travels through the years reunite him with his long-lost fiancée Livia (Moon Bloodgood), which in itself complicates his blissful, present-day life with his vivacious wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and adorable son Zach (Charles Henry Wyson). As if there aren’t enough tricky situations, Dan’s cop brother Jack (Reed Diamond) once dated Katie.

Speaking of obstacles, “Life,” a new one-hour drama about a detective who is given a second chance, is full of complications. Complex and offbeat Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) returns to the police force after years in prison, thanks to a close friend and attorney, after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. There’s no mention of whether he sues his previous lawyers for malpractice.

But he’s out of the joint and teamed up with the proverbially skeptical and demanding partner (Sarah Shahi, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader). For some extra toughness and a reminder of the past, Adam Arkin has a starring role as Charlie’s former cellmate Ted Early.

Though it won’t be on the Thursday night comedy lineup, “Chuck” is a one-hour, action-comedy series about a computer geek who is catapulted into a new career as the government’s most vital secret agent.

When Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) opens an email subliminally encoded with government secrets, he unwittingly downloads an entire server of sensitive data into his brain. Now, the fate of the world rests in the unlikely hands of a guy who works at a Buy More Electronics store. Instead of fighting computer viruses, he must now confront assassins and international terrorists.

With the government’s most precious secrets in Chuck’s head, Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin) of the National Security Agency assumes the responsibility of protecting him. Chuck’s partner is the CIA’s top agent (and his first date in years), Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strzechowski). They’ll try to keep him safe by trading in his pocket protector for a bulletproof vest. Also starring are Joshua Gomez as Morgan, Chuck’s best friend, and Sarah Lancaster as Chuck’s ever-supportive sister, Ellie.

It can’t be said often enough that NBC’s best night is the Thursday lineup of comedies, from “My Name is Earl” to “The Office.” To revive the franchise with a spark of energy, Jerry Seinfeld has been recruited to come back for one week on the Thursday schedule where he had such great success. In a tailor-made role, Seinfeld will appear as himself on the premiere episode of “30 Rock,” where viewers can tune in to see how he shakes things up with abrasive network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).

Speaking to a gathering of TV critics recently, NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman announced that the network has a deal with supernatural artist Criss Angel and famed mentalist Uri Geller to create a reality series for a live competition search for the next guy who can bend spoons with his mind. Silverman said the network is “looking for the next great mind-blower.”

Just a thought, but NBC should channel their mystical powers to come up with a few hit shows.

Tim Riley writes television and movie reviews for Lake County News.








COBB – The Coyote Film Festival, Lake County’s Own Independent Film Festival, draws to a close this weekend with its final selection of award winning short films "under the stars" at Langtry Estates and Vineyards.

The showings take place both Friday, Sept. 14 and Saturday, Sept. 15. Doors open at 7 p.m., with films beginning at 8 p.m. and finishing around 9:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12 and available at the door. Sweaters are advised this month; the weather is expected to be cool.

“The theme for September is ‘Life on the Job’ with films and animations about various aspects of working or dealing with working,” explained Karen Turcotte, coordinator of the event. “We are delighted to present two films by actor/writer/filmmaker Gregg Brown.

Turcott said Brown is visiting from Los Angeles and will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the screening his wonderful short film The Metho” and newest short, Shrinks.

In The Method, the main character is devoted to the rigorous acting technique known as "The Method,” in which performers go to extreme lengths in order to literally "become" the character. He's gotten two callbacks for a major part in a movie. And now he's got one more callback to nail the part of a vicious criminal. He's really a nice guy … he just needs to get this part. This film has won many grand prize and audience favorite awards, said Turcotte.

Brown’s second film, Shrinks, is about five shrinks and one neurotic patient; it's a modern comedy about mental health. Shrinks premiered at the Rhode Island International Film Festival last month, winning first place for Best Comedy Short. Coyote Film Festival will be the second screening ever of this new film.

This month’s animations range from the renowned animator Bill Plympton’s Parking, in which a parking lot attendant takes on a stubborn blade of grass; to Christopher Conforti’s Frog, a frog desperate to find his pond; and Signe Baumane’s Dentist, a dentist with a phobic patient and a strange painting on the wall.

Another short film is Pol Pot’s Birthday by director Talmage Cooley. The brutal dictator’s office staff have to throw him a surprise birthday party. Pol Pot's Birthday premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and has received numerous awards at festivals around the world.

In keeping with our theme of Life on the Job, Turcott said the festival has the dark comedy, Improvisation, a film by writer and director, Zack Litwack.

In Improvisation, Elliot, a young photographer, aspires for wealth and fame in the art world, but he uncovers a conspiracy to sabotage his success. By choosing anonymous artistic fulfillment over fame, he cheats a bleak destiny. The film was the Student Short Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner.

A Guy Named Murphy, by Director Alex Ranarivelo, shows lawyer Ed Murphy devising a unique way to get revenge. Sit back, hold on and don't blink! This five-minute film moves fast. It's another multiple award winner.

Films contain adult situations and/or language, so parental discretion is advised.

Langtry’s tasting room is open during the festival. Bring a picnic for the lawn or tables. There is a 20-foot screen, stereo sound, seating and refreshments available.

All proceeds benefit EcoArts of Lake County, a non-profit dedicated to promoting visual art, visual art education and ecologic stewardship. See more at

Langtry Estates and Vineyards, 21000 Butts Canyon Road in Middletown.


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